Tag Archive | Saku Koivu

HABS STOP THE BLEEDING


Now, let’s get one thing straight.

One victory over the Atlanta Thrashers does not a season make.  But when it comes to the Montreal Canadiens, it’s a win that just might turn this season around.

Might.

If nothing else, Montreal’s 6-3 victory over the team with the third-worst record in the Eastern Conference of the NHL, snapped a five-game losing streak.  And it gave this desperate Canadiens’ hockey team a shred of hope to cling to as they look to shore up their fading playoff hopes.

And let’s face it:  it was a victory.  A “W”.  Two points.  Which is more than you can say for this team on most nights;  certainly since mid-January.

Last night, the Habs’ best players were their best players, led by the newly-minted line of Alex Kovalev, Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay, who combined for 11 points.  Tanguay led the way with two goals and three assists, with Kovalev adding a pair of goals and Koivu chipping in with a solo marker.

The fact that the Habs were almost scoring at will against Kari Lehtonen, who gave up a goal on every second shot (or just about:  Habs connecting on six goals on 15 shots), certainly helped their cause. But when you’re a Canadiens’ team that has been desperate for a win, you’ll take all the help you can get.

If Alex Tanguay is indeed back, after sitting out more than two months of action with a shoulder injury,  it’s good news indeed for the Habs.  In eight games since his return, Tanguay now has four goals and eight assists;  gaudy numbers that are obviously bolstered by his five-point performance against the Thrashers.

However, last night, Alex Tanguay looked like the Alex Tanguay who lit it up while playing with Saku Koivu at the start of the season; when the points were piling up for no. 13 over the first month of action.

For the Canadiens, that’s good news, indeed.

As for Koivu, the Captain has struggled in recent weeks.  But it was while he was playing with Tanguay, that Koivu was this team’s best forward. In fact, until he went down with an ankle injury in early Dec., Koivu was this team’s most consistent performer up front.

For the Canadiens, his performance last night, is good news, indeed.

And then there’s Alex Kovalev, who came within a goalpost of netting the hat trick last night.  It hasn’t worked with Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec all season long, for whatever reason.  But last night, it certainly worked with Tanguay and Koivu.  THAT is the Alex Kovalev the Canadiens are going to need over the final nine games of the regular season, if they are going to advance to post-season play.  Kovalev’s performance last night is the reason why the Canadiens desperately need no. 27 firing on all cylinders.

Last night’s victory (yes, yes, I know, I know: against the 13th-place Thrashers) came because Montreal’s best players were their best players.  As much as you have to admire the play of linemates Tom Kostopoulos, Max Lapierre and Guillaume Latendresse of late, they are not the players who are going to lead this team to the promised land.  In fact, those three were fairly quiet last night.  Against the Thrashers, it was the unit of Glen Metropolit, Chris Higgins and Mathieu Dandenault who helped pick up the slack, with Metropolit contributing with a goal.

Chris Higgins on the fourth line? Works for me. He still managed to see almost 16 minutes of ice time.

Which brings us to the line of Andrei Kostitsyn, Sergei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec.  One shot on goal for Andrei.  One shot on goal for Sergei.  (Three for Plek).  That’s not going to cut it.  Then again, it was only Sergei’s first game back since being recalled from the Hamilton Bulldogs.  If it takes these three guys a little while to get their sea legs, so be it.  They had brief flashes of brilliance lasts night, but they were too brief.  They’ll get another chance Thursday when the Tampa Bay Lightning are in town.

Then again, this entire team will get another chance to do something they haven’t done in three weeks, when the Tampa Bay Lightning come to town.

Win two in a row.

LOSING SKID SNAPPED AT FOUR


This one didn’t score any points for artistic merit.  But it did score two points where it counted the most, for the Montreal Canadiens: in the “win” column, as the Habs snapped a four-game losing streak with a 4-3 victory over the Los Angeles Kings yesterday afternoon at the Bell Centre.  

This one got real ugly in the opening minutes of the second period, when Denis Gauthier cracked Josh Gorges across the nose with a flying elbow;  a move that Gautheir must have picked up while watching Mickey Rourke in “The Wrestler.”  The hit by Gauthier, which earned the L.A. defenceman a five-minute major for charging and a game misconduct, left the Montreal defenceman bloodied and wobbly.  Gorges left the game for several shifts, came back (amazingly), but failed to answer the bell for the third period after coughing up the puck late in the second period; a play which led to a goal by Jarret Stoll that gave the Kings a 3-2 lead.  Then again, Gorges could hardly be blamed for the miscue, as he was clearly still feeling the effects of Gauthier’s version of  “L.A. Law.”

However, the goal did put the Habs behind the eight-ball with 20 minutes to play, down 3-2.  And they stayed there until Christopher Higgins literally took matters into his own hands with two minutes left in regulation play.  Higgins shook off Drew Doughty, with one hand on the stick, and swooped in to beat Jonathan Quick for his first goal since Nov. 26.  Higgins, who had missed 19 games with a shoulder injury, was then joined on the scoresheet by his sometimes-linemate Saku Koivu, who recently returned to action after missing 17 games with an ankle injury.

With 22.3 seconds remaining, and the Canadiens on the power play, Koivu  pushed the puck past a sprawling Quick for the winning goal; a goal that was originally given to Andrei Markov as the puck dribbled into the net.  It was Koivu’s first goal since Nov. 20.

Not pretty by any stretch of the imagination.  But a huge two points for a struggling Canadiens hockey team, who finally got an all-star performance from Carey Price, who stopped Alexander Frolov on a breakaway for a game-saver, after Andrei Markov blew a tire along the Kings’ blue line.

Andrei Kostitsyn and Tomas Plekanec also scored for the Habs, who are back in action this afternoon at the Bell Centre, with the Boston Bruins providing the competition.

CRUNCH TIME LOOMING FOR HABS’ BRASS


With no less than 17 forwards on the ice at practice today (18, if you count Mathieu Dandenault), it’s clear that decision-making time is looming for both head coach Guy Carbonneau and General Manager Bob Gainey, on a number of levels.

The numbers swelled today at the team’s facility in Brossard as a result of the return of Saku Koivu and Chris Higgins to full practice mode.  Koivu, who is coming off an ankle injury, had been practicing with the team for some time.  However, he was off skates recently after suffering a setback.  Today The Captain was back in fine form and could be less than 24 hours away from a return to action.

Unlikely, but still, a possibility.

It’s a similar story for Higgins, who has missed six weeks with a shoulder injury.  But, unlike Koivu, Higgins had been limited to a few turns on the ice on his own, for the last week or so.  Today was his first full workout with his team mates since going down with his injury Dec. 9 vs. Calgary.  (Koivu was hurt just two days later against Tampa.)

Higgins says, any time you practice with your team mates, you feel like you’re ready to play.  But the reality is, he’s far from being a sure bet to return to action either tomorrow in Atlanta or Wed. in New Jersey.  A more likely scenario would see Higgins, and perhaps Koivu, returning to the lineup, post all-star break.

Crunch time for Guy Carbonneau.  And Bob Gainey.

Although Georges Laraque skated on his own today, and Dandenault took to the ice very briefly with his team mates before calling it a day, it’s Koivu and Higgins that Carbonneau will have to make room for, in the short term.  And that means players who have helped contribute to this incredible injury-riddled run of 11-2-1 over the last month will soon be making their way back to the AHL, and the Hamilton Bulldogs.

As much as Habs’ fans have become smitten with the exploits of Matt D’Agostini, Max Pacioretty, and, to a lesser extent, Kyle Chipchura and Gregory Stewart, when Koivu, Higgins and, down the road, Alex Tanguay are ready to return to action, they will indeed return to action.

Then, once players like Laraque and Dandenault are healthy enough to play, Carbonneau will again feel the pinch as he tries to squeeze 14 players into 12 starting forward positions, although you’d have to think Dandenault will again return to the blue line, when his time comes.

Unless, say, Bob Gainey makes a trade or two in the coming weeks, leading up to the Mar. 4 trade deadline.

Like I said, crunch time.

If nothing else, the injuries to a growing number of the team’s veterans, have given both Carbonneau and Gainey an opportunity to see what some of the organization’s most promising prospects can do at the NHL level.  Clearly they must be pleased with what they see.  Perhaps to the point that the coach and GM feel that one or more of these youngsters might be ready to step into a full-time role with the big team.  Which could make one or more veterans available as trade bait should, let’s just say, hypothetically speaking, a Vincent Lecavalier, or a Jay Bouwmeester, becomes available.

Hypothecially speaking, of course.

This situation is also playing into Gainey’s longer-term plans as the GM looks to decide which of his 11 potential unrestricted free agents he’s going to make pitches to, and which of his 11 potential UFA’s he’s going to say “goodbye” to.

Are any of the above-mentioned prospects ready to step in and fill the void that would be created with the departure of any number of the team’s potential UFA’s? Gainey and Carbonneau are certainly closer to knowing the answer to that question now, than they were a few short weeks ago.

Lots to to chew on, with the NHL trading deadline just 44 days away.

TRADE WINDS BLOW THROUGH BOSTON


 

The Montreal Canadiens could have used Vincent Lecavalier last night.

But, alas, while Lecavalier and his Tampa team mates were warming up for their west-coast game against the Sharks (which the Sharks won, 7-1) the Canadiens fell 3-1 to the Bruins in Boston.

The trade winds that have been swirling in Montreal in recent days swept through Boston last night, with Habs fans convinced, or at least hoping, that the Lightning will consider parting with Vinnie and his 11-year, 85-million-dollar contract.  And that Habs’ GM Bob Gainey will move heaven and earth to bring him to Montreal.

While neither the Canadiens nor the Lightning have said anything tangible to fuel the speculation, this is a rumour that has developed a life of its own, and will not go away in the immediate future until:

A.  Tampa trades Lecavalier

or

B. The March trading deadline passes, and Vinnie is still in a Bolts uniform

The rumours hit a fever pitch early last night with word that Lecavalier was being kept out of the lineup against the Sharks because he was on his way to Montreal.  But, sure enough, when the puck dropped at the HP Pavilion, there was Vincent Lacavalier on the ice for the Tampa Bay Lightning.  And there’s his name on the scoresheet:  17:07 of ice time on the strength of 21 shifts, and a -1 performance on the night.

It’s all there in black and white, not ‘bleu, blanc, rouge.”

In the meantime, the Canadiens could have used a little Lecavalier-like offensive magic against Tim Thomas, who surrendered but one goal to Andrei Kostitsyn en-route to a 34-save performance in the Boston goal.  Historically, the Canadiens have had Thomas’ number.  But not last night.  The veteran was the difference, holding down the fort in a first-period flurry which saw the Habs pepper him with 17 shots enroute to a 17-9 shot advantage after 20 minutes.

A funny thing happened to the Canadiens on their way to the second period.  They stopped skating.  True, the goal by Andrei, his 14th of the season on a lovely, patient set-up from brother Sergei, came early in the second period — and opened the scoring.  But the Habs slowly began skating in quicksand, and could not keep up to the Bruins, who, like the Canadiens, were also missing key injured players in Milan Lucic and Phil Kessel.  Two goals in the second period by big Zdeno Chara on the power play, his second coming on a 5-on-3, put the Bruins over the top, with David Kreji adding an insurance marker in the final minutes.

Not that Jaroslav Halak can be faulted for any of this.  From where I was sitting, he looked much better in this loss than he has in many of his wins.  But after powering their way to four straight victories on the strength of 23 goals, Montreal’s offensive well ran dry last night.

Of immediate concern is that both Carey Price and Saku Koivu were kept off skates today as the Canadiens practiced at their facility at Brossard.  Both are nursing lower-body injuries.  The Captain had returned to practicing his teammates and looked to be a reasonable bet to return to action as soon as this week.  Koivu’s absence from practice throws that timetable out the window.

Up next: the Nashville Predators Thursday night at the Bell Centre.  Defenceman Yannick Weber won’t get a chance to dress for that one.  Today he was returned to the Hamilton Bulldogs.  Weber was called up from Hamilton on Jan. 1st and saw 15 minutes of ice time in the 6-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs Jan. 7. 

He’ll be back.

MASS CALL-UP FROM HAMILTON


Upper body, lower body.

Upper body, lower body.

Unfortunately, it’s been an all-too-familiar refrain for the Montreal Canadiens of late. And the latest member of the Habs to be singing that painful tune is Alex Tanguay who is out with an upper body injury after going down early in Tuesday’s win over Tampa: specifically, a dislocated left shoulder that will keep him out of action for at least six weeks.

Six weeks.

Tanguay joins line mates Saku Koivu and Chris Higgins on the shelf, and the news on Tanguay comes after the Canadiens sent forward Ben Maxwell (not surprisingly) and defenceman Ryan O’Byrne (he needs to play somewhere) down to Hamilton. Which, if you do the math, leaves the Canadiens will a number of holes in their roster. Especially with further word today that goalie Carey Price is again being bothered by a lower-body discomfort that kept him out of action recently, and will keep him out of tomorrow’s game in New Jersey against the Devils.

So.

Today the Canadiens called up Max Pacioretty, Kyle Chipchura, goalie Marc Denis, AND defenceman Yannick Weber, which will please legions of Habs’ fans, to no end, on a number of fronts.

We’ve come to know what to expect from Chipchura on an NHL level. Chipchura was with this team for much of the first half of last season before being down to the Bulldogs. He’s not a speed burner, but he brings a solid two-way effort to the rink at centre, although his lack of skills at the face-off circle did him in last season. This season he showed very little in training camp and during the pre-season, which is why he has spent the year in Hamilton. He likely would have been tabbed for a recall when Maxwell was called up,  but  Chipchura was  nursing a groin injury at the time.

Denis is up only as a short-term backup to Jaroslav Halak. Price is not expected to be on the sidelines for long.

Which brings us back to two of Montreal’s most intriguing prospects: Pacioretty and Weber.

Both performed splendidly in pre-season, with Pacioretty clearly knocking on the door to an NHL career after moving from the U.S. university ranks to a career as a pro. And Weber, doing his best to make Habs fans forget about Mark Streit, has progressed nicely in Hamilton after a junior career with the Kitchener Rangers of the Ontario Hockey League.

Pacioretty started slowly in Hamilton, but has been playing his best hockey as a member of the Bulldogs of late, as witnessed by his performance in Hamilton’s 4-0 win over the Toronto Marlies Tuesday night. Pacioretty scored his 5th of the season in that one, in what was his strongest showing as a member of the Bulldogs. Chipchura, who has also been playing splendid hockey of late, notched his 10th of the season in that one.

We know what Weber brings to the rink. He’s a smooth-skating defenceman with a terrific shot. But his defensive skills remain suspect. But with O’Bryne now in Hamilton, a move that had to be made in order to give the struggling blue-liner regular playing time, Weber will get his chance to impress the Montreal brass. His last chance to impress Montreal brass, in Montreal, came at the Bell Centre Nov. 30, which he scored a pair of goals in a game against the Binghamton Senators. He will no doubt see action, at least on the power play, during this call-up.

Of immediate concern, however, is the fact that the Canadiens have not been able to escape the injury bug this season, which was not the case last season, when they were a consistantly healthy bunch. Because with the giddiness that comes with the team’s recent winning ways, and lofty expectations when it comes to players like Chipchura, Pachioretty and Weber, comes the harsh reality that with a steady stream of Habs making their way to sick bay throughout this season,  the Montreal Canadiens are quickly turning into the Hamilton Bulldogs.

HAPPY NEW YEAR? MAYBE NOT FOR TANGUAY


It’s not every day that your number one line is sitting in the press box.

But that could indeed be the case when the Canadiens return to action Friday in New Jersey after closing out the 2008 calendar year with three victories in four nights; win number three coming last night in Tampa thanks to a 2-1 shootout decision over the Bolts.

The fact that the Lightning have jerseys with the gawd-awful nickname BOLTS plastered on the front is a conversation for another day.

By the time this one was over, Alex Tanguay had shaved, showered and was making his way to the team bus with his left arm in a sling.  Three shifts into his game, Tanguay was taken into the boards, hard, by Evgeny Artyukhin and gingerly made his way to the locker room,  never to be seen again.  His night over, after just 1:43 of ice time.  The injury forced Guy Carbonneau to shorten his bench on a night when the Canadiens were clearly somewhat wobbly-legged as a result of three games in four nights.

However, both goaltender Carey Price and forward Guillaume Latendresse gave the Canadiens a chance to come away with at least one point against the BOLTS.  Price slammed the door after surrendering a first-period goal to Vinnie Prospal.  After the two teams skated through a scoreless second period, the recently rejuvenated Latendresse notched his fifth of the season when he poked a backhander past Mike Smith through a pile of bodies, just :46 into period number three.

Truth be told, the Canadiens were the better team over the final 25 minutes of this hockey game.  Robert Lang had a chance to win it in regulation on a breakaway at the 14-minute mark of the third, but failed to convert.  And with five seconds showing on the clock, Andrei Kostitsyn rattled one off the post. Then, in O.T., Maxim Lapierre was robbed by Smith, with the BOLTS’ goaltender down and out in his crease: nothing but air for Lapierre to shoot at.

He missed.

However, Lapierre didn’t miss in the shootout.  After Alex Kovalev opened the round of shots with a goal, Lapierre beat Smith to give Montreal a 2-1 advantage, setting the stage for Lecavalier vs. Price.  And Price won that battle, giving the Canadiens another two points and a 2-1 victory.

While Price celebrated in the crease with a pose that looked like a cross between an archer and Hulk Hogan, Alex Tanguay didn’t look like a man who was going to do much celebrating as he made his way to the team bus, grim faced, sporting that sling on his left arm.  Tanguay has struggled of late after opening the season in explosive fashion playing on a line with Latendresse, and then Chris Higgins, along with Saku Koivu.  The goals were coming in bunches for the former Calgary Flame.  Not any more. Just exactly how long Tanguay is lost to this club remains to be seen.  But, for now, at least, he joins his former linemates Koivu (lower body) and Higgins (upper body) in sick bay.  And perhaps in the press box for Friday’s game in New Jersey, pending the results of an MRI.

In the meantime, the question is:  who will the Canadiens call up from Hamilton if Tanguay remains out of action? The two obvious candidates would be Kyle Chipchura and Max Pacioretty.  Interesting to see that both of those two young men are playing their best hockey of the season down on the farm, as whitnessed by their performance in last night’s 4-0 win over the Toronto Marlies at Copps Colliseum in Hamilton.  Chipchura notched his 10th of the season while  Pacioretty, who is finally beginning to feel comfortable with his move from the university ranks to the American Hockey League,  scored his fifth in his best performance of the season.

My suggestion?  If the Canadiens need to make a personel move as a result of the injury to Tanguay, they should call up both Chipchura and Pacioretty, and send Ben Maxwell back down to Hamilton.  Maxwell is clearly not ready for prime time.  Chipchura would replace Maxwell at centre, and Pacioretty would replace Tanguay at wing. IF Tanguay needs to be replaced at wing.

We’ll know more after Tanguay’s New Years’ date with an MRI machine.

MID-TERM REPORT CARD


School’s out for the term, and members of the Montreal Canadiens are enjoying the Christmas break until they return to class Dec. 27 in Pittsburgh against the Penguins.  Report cards have been issued for all students.  Some have excelled, others need to show more effort.  Here are their grades:

Andrei Markov.  Andrei has been a very consistent student this term.  He is worthy of his current all-star voting status and the fact that he is among the top point-scorers among his classmates is a bonus.  A worthy contributor on the power play.  A-

Alex Kovalev.  Alex closed out the term by exhibiting a renewed interest in contributing to the success of the class after going through a long restless and unproductive stretch.  Because of an A-plus season last year, much is expected of Alex this year, and he has struggled to live up to those expectations.  But there is reason to believe that his new-found enthusiasm will successfully carry him through to the end of the current school year.  C

Alex Tanguay.  As one of the new kids in class, Alex adapted to his new surroundings very well, showing a particular interest in playing with fellow classmate Saku Koivu.  However, Alex’s productivity has dropped of late and he’s struggling to regain the scoring touch he exhibited through the first month of the school year.  Alex is going to have to work harder if he is to enjoy the kind of success he had early in the term.   C+

Robert Lang.  Another new student this year, Robert has fit right in with his new classmates.  An outgoing and engaging student, Robert quietly does his job on the ice without much fanfare.  Although the Canadiens were initially pursuing another out-of-town student named Mats, Robert has been more than a capable addition to this team.  A-

Saku Koivu.  Saku was the most consistent performer in his class, right up until the time a lower-body injury forced him out of action two weeks ago.  A tireless worker, the Canadiens miss his leadership and grit.  A-

Tomas Plekanec.  Tomas is a wonderful student and a terrific young man.  However, despite his best efforts,  Tomas’s contributions to the success of the class have been lacking.  His coach is again giving him a chance to play with the students he had so much success with last season, Alex K. and Andrei K.   A more consistent, grittier effort is needed from Tomas.  C-

Sergei Kostitsyn.  Sergei joined the group in the second half of last term and was a welcome addition to the class.  This term, however, he seemed to sulk and was unproductive until recently, having exhibited a renewed enthusiasm lately.  He needs to maintain a positive attitude this upcoming term.  C

Andrei Kostitsyn.  Sergei’s big brother Andrei seemed to flourish when little brother joined the class last year.  This term, however, Andrei hasn’t shown the same drive and determination that led many to believe that he could be at the head of the class this year.  Andrei needs to work harder and get his nose dirtier.  C-

Guillaume Latendresse.  Like a number of his class mates, Guillaume began the term in impressive fashion.  However, he seemed to lose interest for long stretches as the term went on.  Again, like a number of his class mates, he’s shown a renewed interest in his studies and has been making a more consistent contribution.  He needs to keep it up.  C.

Roman Hamrlik.  Roman is in his second year with this class and has been a welcome addition.  He’s not as flashy as the student he initially replaced along the blue line, Sheldon, but he contributes in his own quiet and efficient fashion.  Very steady along the blue line.  B

Christopher Higgins.  This has been a difficult term for Christopher, who began the season with a lower-body injury and is now sidelined with an upper body injury.  However, when he was healthy, Christopher struggled to find himself and was unable to contribute to his class’s production. A bright young man with the potential to be a class leader, Christopher will need to play a bigger role in class when he returns.  D

Steve Begin.  Steve was clearly not the teacher’s pet when the term started.  However, he has been given the chance to become more involved in class and has been very productive.  He has not only exhibited his trademark grit, but Steve has also contributed offensively.  B

Matt D’Agostini.  Young Matt is a newcomer to class, having recently graduated from Hamilton.   Matt has shown a maturity beyond his years and has provided class with a much-needed spark and offensive lift.  Matt is sure to finish the term in Montreal.  A

Maxime Lapierre.  Maxime has brought a more focused determination to class in recent games and has played well with fellow students Tom K. and Steve B.  He’s always been a hard worker, but now those efforts are proving to be more productive.  B-

Patrice Brisebois.  Much has been expected of Patrice this season as a result of injuries, and Patrice’s contribution, particularly on the power play, have not gone unnoticed.  However, Patrice still struggles in his own end and is prone to mistakes.  C.

Tom Kostopoulos.  Tom has been a terrific addition to class and has raised his level of play this term.  Tom shows great character in the locker room and on the ice and has exhibited the occasional scoring touch, which has been a nice surprise.  B+

Josh Gorges.  Josh has emerged as number 2 among his defensive class mates and shows a maturity beyond his years.  He’s not the biggest kid in the class, but shows a big heart out there.  Wants to contribute more offensively, but should stick to his “stay-at-home” style.  A-.

Francis Bouillon.  Francis has been an effective contributor to this class for a number of years, and we saw more of the same from him this term.  Not the biggest kid in the class, Francis plays big, uses his body well, and makes a terrific first pass out of his zone.  An engaging, personable young man.  B-

Ryan O’Byrne.  Ryan has struggled since graduating from Hamilton, although the teacher has shown faith in the young man.  Ryan has taken a step back in his progress since joining the group last season.  D.

Mathieu Dandenault.  Mathieu has been a patient student this season; waiting for his turn to join his fellow students on the ice.  He was given that opportunity recently, to rejoin his defensive mates, but suffered an upper-body injury shortly thereafter.  He will be missed by the class.  C+

Mike Komisarek.  Mike brings size, grit, leadership, and terrific puck-blocking abilities to the class, but showed some inconsistencies before suffering an upper-body injury earlier in the term.  He’s back now, and has made a solid contribution since his return. We need to see more of that from Mike in the coming term.  B-

Georges Laraque.  Georges is well-liked by all.  He brings a huge presence to class and has recently shown that he can contribute offensively, as well.  Isn’t quite the schoolyard bully that many thought, and hoped, he would be.  C.

Carey Price.  Carey has performed well this term,  keeping his class mates in many a hockey game while others around him struggled.  He was missed when he recently came down with the flue and a lower-body injury.  He is back in class and will be counted upon heavily in the second term.  His glove hand is known to desert him at times.  Prone to the occasional bad goal.  B+

Jaroslav Halak.  Jaroslav recently had a chance to step in for Carey Price for an extended period and came up with a hot-and-cold performance.  Won’t get a lot of playing time with his class mates in the second term, but needs to be more consistent when he gets the opportunity.   C-

Overall class grade:  A stronger class effort of late has this group approaching a B- grade.  However, for this term they’ve been issued a C+.

A NUMBERS GAME


All right. It’s time to take a deep breath.

Can we all agree that the goal that Ryan O’Byrne scored on his own net last night in the game against the New York Islanders is not the number one concern on this Montreal Canadiens’ team?

Good.

Now let’s move on, and take a look at the 2008-2009 edition of a Canadiens’ team that is at the quarter-mark of the season. Twenty games in, there are a large number of Habs who have failed to live up to the offensive exepectations set by this team last season. And when you project current point totals, the news is grim indeed.

Take Alex Kovalev (please.) 35 goals and 49 assists for 84 points last season. If we project his current totals for the rest of the year, Kovalev will finish with 20 goals and 40 assists for 60 points.

Give or take a point.

Tomas Plekanec. Last season, 29 goals and 40 assists for 69 points. Based on his performance so far this season, Plekanec would finish the year with 16 goals and 28 assists for 44 points.

Ouch.

How about Andrei Kostitsyn, the third member of that line that is looking to get into gear? Last season: 26 goals, 27 assists for 53 points. Granted, Andrei had his bell rung earlier in the season which slowed him down, but project his current numbers, and you have a 12 goals and 16 assists for 28 points. Now, you KNOW Andrei is good for a whole lot more than that, but it’s certainly food for thought.

Saku Koivu, on the other hand, looks to be on pace for another 60-point-or-so season. Sixteen goals, 40 assists for 56 points last season. His numbers project to 28 goals and 40 assists for 68 points, but Koivu has had a tendency in recent years to slow down in the second half of the season.

Alex Tanguay is producing at a better clip than he did last season, when he scored 18 goals and added 40 assists for 58 points with the Calgary Flames. If Tanguay continues on his current pace, he’ll finish with 32 goals and 36 assists for 68 points. Give or take.

Robert Lang is giving the Canadiens exactly what they bargained for when they signed him to a free-agent deal. Lang picked up 21 goals and 33 assists for 54 points last season with Chicago. This season he’s on pace to produce 24 goals and 32 assists for 56 points.

If you think some of those statistics are scary, remember that the 2007-2008 edition of the Montreal Canadiens lived and died by the power play. This season, the Habs are ranked 23rd overall when playing with the man advantage; 28th overall when playing with the man advantage, at home.

Still, there is light at the end of the tunnel for this Canadiens’ team that has managed to forge a record of 11-5-4, despite a mediocre month of November.

It can only get better for this club, right?

Right???

ONE STEP FORWARD…


…two steps back?

We’ll begin to get the answer to that question Saturday night, when the Boston Bruins come to town on a night when the Montreal Canadiens retire Patrick Roy’s jersey number 33.

We’ve been down this road with this Canadiens‘ team before, of late. I take you back to the 6-3 loss to the Maple Leafs in Toronto on Nov. 8; a setback described by Habs‘ head coach Guy Carbonneau as “embarrassing.”

Three nights later, the Canadiens came up with with Carbo called his team’s best performance of the season, perhaps of the last two seasons, in a 4-0 whitewash of the Ottawa Senators.

One step forward…

Unable to build on the success of that victory, the Canadiens took to the ice two nights later in Boston and were humbled 6-1 by the Bruins.

…two steps back.

After a reasonable, but losing, effort against the Flyers Nov. 15. at the Bell Centre, the Canadiens played in St. Louis the following night and beat a struggling, injury-riddled Blues’ team 3-2 in a shootout. Hardly the stuff of champions, but two points nonetheless.

One step forward…

Then, two nights later in Carolina, another listless, losing performance in a 2-1 setback to the Hurricanes.

…two steps back.

Then last night in the Nation’s Capital, we witnessed Montreal’s best effort since the 4-0 win over Ottawa. Ironically, it came against these same Senators; a struggling, injury-riddled Ottawa team that is going nowhere, fast. The thing is, you could say the same about this Canadiens team. Fortunately for the Habs, they proved to be the better club.

You don’t think Guy Carbonneau is relieved? Did you see The Coach’s fist-pump after Alex Tanguay buried the winning goal in the shootout? A happy camper, Coach Carbo was. Who can blame him? As I like to stay: Two points is two points is two points. Something to build on.

One step forward…

Two steps back?

We’ll know more tomorrow night when the Big, Bad, Boston Bruins are at the Bell Centre. Has Coach Carbo finally come up with some line combinations he’s willing to live with for awhile? I wouldn’t bet the farm on it. Guillaume Latendresse doesn’t deserve to be playing with Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay, as was the case last night. At the same time, based on his two-assist performance in this one, helping out on goals by Saku Koivu and Andrei Markov, I don’t think Sergei Kostitsyn will hang around the fourth line very long, which is where he found himself playing with Steve Begin and Georges Laraque.

In the good-cop, bad-cop world of Guy Carbonneau, it’s time for The Coach to give Kovalev, Plekanec and A.Kostitsyn another shot at playing together. I like Koivu, Tanguay and Chris Higgins as a trio. And I’d give Tom Kostopoulos third-line duty with Robert Lang and Sergei K. If you don’t want to put Latendresse on the fourth line, then put him in the press box.

Carey Price? Very good last night, despite losing sight of the puck on the power play goal by Nick Foligno that gave the Sens a 2-1 lead, five minutes into the third period. And he was terrific in the shootout, holding down the fort until Tanguay slipped one past Alex Auld with the winner. Dany Heatley had the other for Ottawa.

And lookey here: the goal by Koivu came on the power play.

One step forward…

BETTER PERFORMANCE, SAME RESULT


Well, at least they weren’t embarrassed.

The Montreal Canadiens came up with a better performance but still came up on the short end of a 2-1 decision to the Philadelphia Flyers Saturday night at the Bell Centre.  This was a more determined effort by a Canadiens‘ club that was shellacked 6-1 in Boston 48 hours earlier.  However, after disposing of the Flyers 5-3 in Philadelphia Oct. 13 in Montreal’s third game of the season, this one resembled the kind of hockey we saw from both clubs when they tangled in round two of the playoffs last season:  solid goaltending on the part of Martin Biron, (who continues to look like a Vezina Trophy winner when the plays the Habs) and the inability of Canadiens‘ forwards to capitalize on their scoring opportunities.

With defenceman Mike Komisarek in sick bay as a result of an upper-body injury suffered in a fight with Milan Lucic of the Bruins Thursday night, the Flyers came out storming and came “this close” to scoring early, and often, when Glen Metropolit was left all alone in front of Jaroslav Halak two minutes into the game, and Scottie Upshall was allowed to barge in on the Montreal netminder just seconds later.  However, the Canadiens got their sea legs after being outshot 5-0 through the opening five minutes, and finished the period with some wind in their sails, but failed to beat Biron; Robert Lang with perhaps the best scoring chance at the 12:00 mark of that opening period.

The Flyers lived up to their name and came out Flying in the second period, Upshall beating Halak with a tip-in at 5:30 of the middle frame, as Francis Boullion was unable to tie up the speedy and pesky right winger.  The line of Saku Koivu-Alex Tanguay-Chris Higgins did generate some traffic in front of Biron in that period, but failed to beat the Flyer netminder; Tanguay coming close 10:00 in.  Then, at 15:36 of the period, Ryan O’Byrne was caught with his back to the play, which enabled Jeff Carter to move in and beat Halak to make it 2-0 Philadelphia; the Flyers outshooting the Habs 18-7 in the period, which was indicative of the play.

Head coach Guy Carbonneau went back to the drawing board, mixing up his lines in the third period in an effort to squeeze some production out of a lineup that has produced a grand total of two goals in its last two games.  Chris Higgins found himself playing with Alex Kovalev and Tomas Plekanec.  That left Andrei Kostitsyn on a line with brother Sergei and Robert Lang;  with Guillaume Latendresse shifting over to play with Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay.

It’s the Tanguay-Koivu-Latendresse trio that struck paydirt midway through the third period, with Tanguay netting his 8th of the season.  Latendresse appeared to show a little more interest out there on the ice when playing with Tanguay and Koivu, with Koivu, again, being the most effective forward for Montreal.

Jeff Carter handed the Canadiens a gift at 16:49 of the the third period when he was called for hooking.  But the sputtering Habs’ power play sputtered yet again, finishing the night 0-for-4.  The  Canadiens did pull Halak for an extra attacker in the final minute, to no avail.

There was precious little for the Bell Centre faithful to get excited about on this night, save for for Georges Laraque’s pummelling of Josh Gratton three minutes into the hockey game.

You certainly can’t fault Halak for this loss: the young goaltender kept his team in the game and gave the Canadiens a chance to win.  However, the Habs again got zero production from the Kovalev-Plekanec-A.Kostitsyn line, lots of scoring opportunities, but a big goose egg, while playing with the man advantage, and yet more sketchy play in front of their goaltender.

A better performance, yes.  However, a failed opportunity to grab two points, at home, against a team struggling to play .500 hockey, and a Flyer team without the injured Daniel Briere.

Guy Carbonneau’s quest to find out what’s ailing his hockey team, that has lost four of its last five, continues Sunday night in St. Louis, as the Canadiens open a three-game road trip, with stops in Carolina and Ottawa.

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